A couple of weeks ago at the world launch event in Bologna, Ducati added yet another flavour to their Scrambler menu – the Café Racer. Or was it the Scrambler Café Racer. Or the Scrambler Ducati Cafe Racer? I’m just going to call it the Café Racer as that seems easiest. As the name blatantly gives away, it’s a café racer themed Scrambler, which, don’t worry, doesn’t make much sense to me either – there’s nothing visually “scrambler” about it, unlike, say, the Desert Sled – but more on that later.
Ducati chose a brilliant location to launch the Café Racer. The Apennine Mountains south of Bologna, where the Italian firm is based, provide a fantastic set of interconnected tarmac ribbons to whip around on. But before we got to head out in their direction, we gathered at the Scrambler Food Factory to attend the press conference to learn a thing or two about the bike.
Some stuff we already knew though. The Scrambler is for the most part a common platform. They’ve all got the same 803cc air-cooled L-twin (what else?) motor that kicks out 75 horses and 50 torques, the same frame (with exception to the Desert Sled, which is beefed up) but from there on they are each configured on a case by case basis – wheels, tyres, seats, handlebars, ride heights, suspension settings and geometry are all differing, but the base is common.
Ducati chose a deft location, the Scrambler Food Factory, for our 60 minute learn-about-the-bike session. The walls at the Food Factory are covered in Scrambler accessories and apparel, and the menu is carefully selected to appeal to the younger audience who are buying in to the Scrambler lifestyle. On that note, there’s an app for your phone which’ll let you know where the nearest Scrambler Food Factory is (there’s only one right now – the one in Bologna that we were at) but more are planned. The app will also direct you to fuel stations, Ducati dealerships and other points of interest (whatever those are). And as if that wasn’t internet-generation enough, there’s a Scrambler radio station too, making for a distinctly young vibe round the whole brand.
Anyway, we learnt a few things about the Café Racer. Ducati were keen to stress that it isn’t just an Icon with clip-ons. No; the suspension is different, beefed up with longer internals for more stiffness – presumably they’re expecting the Café Racer to be ridden harder than other models in the range. The rear ride height is jacked up a bit to shift weight forward and sharpen geometry. The single-piece handlebars which you’ll find on other models in the range are replaced with clip-ons, and the foot pegs are set further rearward. In fact, the clip-ons place the grips a full 6 inches further forward and 7 downwards compared to where the Icon. The front wheel is a proper 17 incher with sticky 120/70 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II rubber, and the rear is a nice fat 180/55. Sporty intentions, indeed. Disappointingly, the suspension isn’t adjustable except for preload on the rear. But, more promisingly, the front brake is a whopper – a proper Brembo radial master cylinder, paired with a radial M4.32 caliper which squeezes a dinner-plate proportioned 330mm single disc. Sounds like the Café Racer might just live up to its name, then.
Oh, yes, #54, given you were probably wondering — that’s a nod to Bruno Spaggiari, the former works rider who raced in the 60s. Cool.
Class is over, so out on the bikes we go. Thumb the starter and the engine coughs lazily into life. You’d be forgiven for thinking the battery was flat, but as we learnt on the Monster 797 launch, that’s just how these things roll. The sun’s shining on the Bolognan black stuff, so we’re in for a fun day. Before getting to the open roads, we have to endure 5 miles or so of town and city riding, and that gave chance to mentally jot down a few things about the Café Racer.
Despite its aesthetics, with its clip-ons, rear-set pegs and nose-down front-end, it doesn’t have the feel of a hard-as-nails café racer from half a century ago – it’s nothing like the XSR900 Abarth is, for example. The bars are actually on risers so you’re not stretched out over the tank in a racy crouch, and the pegs are still fairly low offering plenty of room. And that’s all probably for the best and makes perfect sense when you think about who this bike is aimed at.
The seat’s really low at 805mm, too. Even the most vertically challenged will have no problem on the Café Racer – I’m a distinctly average 5’8”-and-a-bit and I had both feet completely flat on the deck with bend in my legs too. I reckon you’d have to be south of 5’2” for it to become a problem. The friendly theme continues on to the clutch and throttle response. The action is light with bite point towards the end of the lever’s travel, and the throttle response is also nice and predictable – no binary on/off to be found here. There is, however, too much play in the throttle, but that’s easily adjusted out, of course. The other extremely obvious thing is just how light and nimble the Café Racer is on its feet at 188kg fully fuelled. A respectable steering lock and calm fuelling give it plenty of city road manners. Even the mirrors are pretty good, surprisingly.
The roads are beginning to open up, the pace is increasing and more mental notes are being filed away. The throttle now needs much larger inputs, and the power it kicks out really does feel quite tame and Scrambler-esque – there’s absolutely no bite to the bark, just a lumpy mid range before the engine runs out of steam. But feed it another gear and it’ll pick up a few more digits on the single-unit dial. I notice that there’s no gear indicator, and no fuel gauge either; the dial is a very basic affair. Speed is the most prominent information, but the rest requires far too much effort to find and digest. In fact, just like the [Monster 797], there’s almost nothing in the way of fancy electronic wizardry – just an ABS system lurking in the background watching over you when conditions get tricky.
The pace increases even further, and by this point we’re riding well beyond the Café Racer’s abilities. The Termignoni exhaust (fitted as standard) puts out a satisfying roar, as does the airbox, and it spits the occasional pop and bang off the throttle. Lovely. The suspension is way too soft and has far too much travel for this as we dart through hairpin corners, to the point where it’s now thoroughly misbehaving over rutted Tarmac. It’s a different story with the brakes though. The Brembo setup cashes every cheque that the lever writes; it’s got more than enough power to haul down the digits on the dash from any speed. I manage to bottom the forks out multiple times when braking for hairpin corners on this particular stretch of road (which happens to be the famed Futa Pass). A couple of false neutrals cropped up between fast gear changes as we all desperately tried to cling onto the Ducati test rider. It sounds like I’m criticising, and I am (a little bit), but none of this is a deal breaker. The Café Racer clearly isn’t meant to be ridden to this level, so its shortcomings are more fun and endearing than they are off-putting. And anyway, no new rider is going to ride like this. This is just fun, I’m really enjoying myself.
Back to that point about being a Scrambler. It has the Scrambler badge on the tank, and the Scrambler brand is kept at arms length by Ducati to protect the prestige of the main Ducati brand. The Café Racer, I feel, is possibly the least Scrambler and most Ducati in the Scrambler range (if that makes sense). The only Scrambler-esque nuance it possesses is its vague suspension when cornerning beyond its comfort zone. But, just look at it. The Black Coffee colour scheme – the only colour it comes in – is gorgeous. The finish and detailing is nothing short of premium. I can barely spot any tacky plastic; in fact the only plastic I can see surrounds the concealed oil cooler (can you spot it?). There’s plenty of nice detail – the smoked brake fluid reservoir, machined cooling fins on the engine and the colour matched seat cowl. The packaging is great – look at it from any angle and all the uglies are tucked out of sight. The shotgun style Termi’ exhaust and number-boards sit just right, and even the con-rod esque detailing on the cam-belt covers looks good. It’s a really nice bit of kit. It’s definitely more Ducati than it is Scrambler.
The price, of course, is the sticking bit. It’s £9,395, and that’s before you’ve nosed through any extras you might want from the well stocked accessory catalogue, or padded your wardrobe out with any of the accompanying apparel. The numerically minded amongst you will notice it’s only 200 sheets short of a Monster 821, and a full 1,745 more than the Icon. But, for a lot of people considering a Cafe Racer, the monthly PCP deal will be the most relevant number. That comes in at £105 a month, after a £2,160 deposit. And even if PCP isn’t your thing, I couldn’t blame you for coughing up the full price in cash. And anyway, no bikes in this sector are cheap. Triumph’s Thruxton R, although more powerful, will set you back 12 large ones and BMW’s R Nine T offerings aren’t much less than that.
So, in summary, I like it. That much should be obvious by now. None of its shortcomings really matter – it rides nicely and I think Ducati will sell a boat load of ‘em. It looks great, and it’ll make you look great too. Its party trick is managing to look like a café racer while actually being an all-day-long comfy ride. Make sure you swing a leg over one; you won’t regret it.
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